Blend Social and User-Generated Content to Drive More Business Online

By Shaun Ryan, CEO, SLI Systems and Mike Hill, executive VP, Guidance Solutions

These days it seems more consumers are on social networks than aren’t, and that’s where they’re getting input from friends and family about what products to buy – or not. When someone posts a positive – or negative – comment on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere about your brand, it’s one thing to spot it and respond. But there are many more things you can do to showcase the good comments and other user-generated content on your site, to improve the visitor experience, strengthen your brand and drive more conversions and revenue online. There are also ways you can leverage social networking sites to gain more visibility for your products, your promotions and other marketing activities.

Below are some tips for actions you can take that give more visibility to the social sharing your customers are doing that will strengthen your brand – and your business.

  • Leverage Social for all it’s worth with Cause Commerce. According to a Cone survey, 79% of consumers stated they would switch from one brand to another if the alternative was associated with a cause they were passionate about. If your company already has a named charity for employee volunteer time or donations, consider taking it one step further by bringing your charity into your e-commerce strategy. This can include highlighting your involvement with a charity or cause on your website, or can be as sophisticated as a social commerce storefront on Facebook. For example, GiftsThatGive, a caused-based retailer, donates $1 of every $5 to the cause of their customers’ choice. Their new Facebook Store allows visitors to create their own Facebook store, choose which products they want to sell, and set a fundraising goal for the charity of their choice.
  • Implement Facebook Sign-In for your store. A more advanced integration between Facebook and your e-commerce site is allowing visitors to use their Facebook profile as their account on your store. This reduces the number of steps and amount of information visitors need to provide to create an account with your site. This functionality can also trigger personalized content for the user based on their friends’ activity on the site. TripAdvisor does a good job of encouraging Facebook Sign-In and using friends’ activity to promote certain destinations or trips.
  • Index social media and user-generated content in site search results. If you have blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook wall posts, videos on YouTube or photos on Flickr, all of this content should appear on your site search results pages – possibly in a separate tab, as Yarn.com handles it. When you allow people to find all this informative non-product content in their searches, you’re helping them do their research before they buy – which can mean the difference between putting an item in their shopping cart and leaving your site.
  • Place Facebook “like” and Google +1 buttons on product pages. This will encourage site visitors to share your products with their friends. In addition, these “like” buttons can improve your page’s ranking on Bing and Google. You can also import the number of likes that each product has into your site search index and allow your site visitors to reorder site search results so the products with the most “likes” are ranked highest.
  • Add site search to your Facebook page. By adding a search box to your company Facebook page, you encourage visitors to search and shop from directly within Facebook, rather than requiring them to leave and go to your site. The results will appear right on your Facebook page, which gives them an opportunity to “like” the results so they’re shared socially. This is a good way to build stronger relationships with shoppers who like to combine shopping with social networking. Make Me Heal and Chaparral Motorsports are good examples of this.
  • Make user ratings and reviews searchable. If you’re like most online retailers, you probably have user ratings and reviews on your site – a great way to help visitors see how other people like your products. There are several ways to showcase this content in search: by showing star ratings in search results and allowing visitors to sort or refine results by the number of stars (so they only see four- and five-star ratings, for example); or by allowing visitors to navigate and search through reviews, particularly when there are many reviews to read for a particular product. For example, Abe’s of Maine, an online camera and electronics retailer, makes their reviews easier to navigate by allowing people to select certain criteria so they see only reviews that are relevant to what they’re looking for.
  • Encourage user-generated content and tie to social networks. When Guidance designed TOMS Shoes, the UX & design group combined customers’ passion for the popular canvas shoe and social network activities. The How We Wear Them section allows users to upload a photo of themselves wearing their favorite pair of TOMS Shoes. The customer associates the shoe in the photo to an SKU in the catalog, linking directly to that Product Detail Page and is then prompted to share the photo on Facebook. These images are then represented as thumbnails on the Product Detail Page, adding a social touch to the buying experience!

They say that your customers can be the best form of advertising – and in today’s socially connected online world, that’s never been more true. By exercising the suggestions above, you can blend your customers’ feedback and social activities into your online marketing efforts, and effectively drive more visibility and credibility for your brand.

Shaun Ryan is CEO, SLI Systems. Mike Hill is executive VP, Guidance Solutions.